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You don't have to be anti-tillage just because you no-till often

TAGS: Tillage
You don't have to be anti-tillage just because you no-till often
Agronomist says each producer can choose what's best for his or her farm, and keep options open.

Bill Lehmkuhl headed west recently and wound up talking to farmers in central Indiana. The Minster, Ohio, farmer and crop consultant, and owner of Precision Agri-Services, Inc. addressed farmers at a meeting sponsored by Greene Crop Consulting in Franklin, Ind. His primary topic was tillage – when to till and how to till, if you're going to till.

Related: Is It Time to Reconsider No-Till?

Lehmkuhl does a lot of no-till on his farm. It prompted this question from a farmer at the end of the meeting. "So are you anti-tillage then?" the farmer asked.

"The best way I can answer that is to say 'to each his own,'" Lehmkuhl began. "I like no-till but there are times when we have to rip."

Let plants do the talking? What did your plants tell you last summer? If you didn't dig pits, you may not know. Barry Fisher of the Natural Resources Conservation Service jumped in these pits in Mike Starkey's soybean fields near Brownsburg to see if cover crops helped loosen the soil before planting. He found that they did, but they do more in certain soil types compared to other types.

If Lehmkuhl does tillage on his own land, he says it's often newly acquired rented land that has a compacted layer below the surface, or else fields where it was impossible not to create some ruts during harvest, for example.

One thing he is sure about – you can't count on Mother Nature and freeze and thaw cycles to fix compacted layers for you. It takes too many winters, and the number of freeze and thaw cycles per winter are too variable, he says.

You also can't afford to no-till if you haven't fixed serious problems like compacted layers first, he adds. He's a big proponent of digging pits to see if there is a layer that needs to be broken. And then if you decide to run an in-line ripper, he believes in digging behind the tillage operation to make sure you're accomplishing what you want to accomplish – shattering the layers.

Related: All vertical tillage is not created equal

'We dig pits every year in our corn fields and try to see what the corn plant is telling us," he says. "If you pay attention to how roots developed you can learn a lot. We use that type of information to guide what we do on the farm in terms of whether we rip occasionally or not."

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